Last year’s The Dragon’s Path was Daniel Abraham’s answer to the familiar epic fantasy saga à la Eddings or Jordan. After having taken us to lands never before travelled with his excellent Long Price Quartet, Abraham consciously sought to craft the ‘perfect’ epic fantasy by pulling together all sorts of tropes, characters, and themes from fantasy, history and beyond. And, in my own words the first book of The Dagger and the Coin was ‘one of the very best “classic” epics.’ Needless to say, expectations for The King’s Blood - as with any Abraham book - were high. However, once again Abraham sweeps us up in his world, his finely crafted characters giving us one of their very best performances. Yet another strong example of Abraham’s mastery.
Geder Palliako’s star is rising. He is a hero of Antea, protector to the crown prince and darling of the court. But storms from his past are gathering, and with them, a war that will change everything.
Cithrin bel Sarcour founded a powerful bank on stolen wealth, forged papers and ready blades. Now every move she makes is observed, recorded and controlled. Unless Cithrin can free herself from her gilded cage, the life she made will be for naught; war may provide just the opportunity she needs.
An apostate priest sees the hidden hand behind all: a long-buried secret of the dragon empire threatens everything humanity has built. An age of madness and death approaches, with only a few doomed heroes to stand in its way.
In the state of events The Dragon’s Path ended in, things could only get more exciting from here. As the second novel in a series, and following an action-packed opener, one might have expected The King’s Blood to be a bit more down tempo. There is no sense of that here however, with Abraham unfurling a whole slew of new thrills for characters and readers alike. Indeed, if there’s one thing Abraham did not emulate of other epic fantasies it’s their often staggering length. Coming in below five hundred pages, there’s very little room for needless exposition, lending an added sense of purpose to the narrative.
The narrative in this second outing is less heavy on the medieval banking, but walks the path of war much more confidently. If there’s an aspect of Abraham’s writing which is easily criticized, it’s his often rushed or circumspect approach to writing battle scenes. In his previous books, they’ve either been lamentably short, or have happened off screen. This fit the style of the Long Price well when it occurred in those books, but grand battles and fighting are story elements that must be indulged in the type of fantasy Abraham wants to write with The Dagger and the Coin. In The King’s Blood he appears to have recognized this, allowing time for a few select scenes to cover this aspect of the plot.
Much like the first book though, there’s intrigue aplenty, with court politics being taken to a whole new level in a later part of the book. Center-stage is Geder Palliako, the misconstrued hero of Imperial Antea’s previous war, and now most powerful man in the kingdom. Abraham uses his woefully inadequate skill set, pettiness, and brash decisions to drive most of the plot. Most of the other events are a consequence of what Geder has done or decided, and the other point of view characters orbit him. In this sense, The King’s Blood is a more concise novel, with fewer independent storylines. On the side, Marcus Wester continues to struggle with his past and his place in the world, Dawson Kalliam continues to be subservient to his principles, and Cithrin attempts to grow - legitimately this time - into the bank manager she dreams of becoming.
As we’ve come to expect, Abraham takes every available opportunity to weave in a fascinating commentary to the narrative. He may only be trying to create up to date version of the epic fantasies of the 80s, but he can’t help himself adding his own take on things - a welcome hint of personality. Themes broached in The Dragon’s Path are explored in more depth. Racism is one of the prominent ones, being rampant throughout the world Abraham has created. Many readers may be put off by it’s particularly strong presence in Dawson’s character. He’s a character driven by honor and morals, but that doesn’t stop them from being extremely conservative morals. He’s the perfect case of a character we can admire for his faith in what he believes, while being wary of what those values represent concretely.
This ambiguity is present more and more in Geder too. When literally reading things from his perspective, it’s extremely difficult to outright despise the man. His naivety and lack of experience, which are only really perceivable when we share his thoughts, are an understandable excuse for the terrible decisions he makes. Despite his pettiness, we’re led more to feel pity for him than hatred. But his depiction through the eyes of the other characters is much different. He’s the man who burned down an entire city, a man who sends others to war, who kills without piety, and a man who has fallen under the influence of ‘religious fanatics.’ A bad man. In this way Abraham ably touches upon the importance of perspective, which has become a recurring theme in his books.
It is these sorts of half-hidden universal musings which make The King’s Blood so great. Otherwise insignificant conversations between characters are made almost more enjoyable than the action because of it. The dry wit in the exchanges between Marcus and Yardem, or the casual cynicism of Cithrin’s political and financial analyses were certainly some of the high points of the novel for me. As was his goal though, the action and fantasy oriented aspects of the story are similarly entertaining. Being spread over five books, it feels like some of the overarching threads of The Dagger and the Coin are only now starting to come to light, but things are shaping up to be quite fascinating.
Continuing well in the same vein as The Dragon’s Path, Daniel Abraham’s second entry to The Dagger and the Coin does not disappoint. Blending the familiarity of the plot with still a good element of mystery, he manages to keep us thoroughly entertained. The succession of events is riveting, and conclusions are often surprising. Abraham’s superbly intelligent writing makes The King’s Blood something more than your average epic fantasy, despite it’s trappings. If you’ve not yet taken the plunge, there’s absolutely no reason for you not to; Abraham has more than demonstrated he’s a writer of substance, The King’s Blood is just further proof. An excellent read, highly recommended.
Daniel Abraham's Website: http://www.danielabraham.com
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